I’ve never been subjected to direct homophobia. I am aware comments have, in the past, been made about me based on my orientation but never directly to me, more indirect or out of ear shot.  Not that it would have bothered me – I sometimes find it amusing that other people have issues with ‘my’ sexuality, something which really has very little bearing on anyone else’s life bar my own. However today there are some who still refuse to ‘come out’ from fear of being stigmatised. I’ve always hated that term, ‘coming out’, it does nothing more than feed the appetite of some to neatly tag sections of society, identifying them based purely on their differences.

Fear of being stigmatised fuels some to avoid disclosure in all aspects of their life, even parts where there are significant legal consequences. I believe stigma is only a component of the problem. Denial, the refusal to accept something, the refusal to accept one’s HIV status is a large factor. It is quite upsetting that for some the only means of dealing with the situation is to pretend it does not exist at all. Becoming so entrenched in their own denial they now genuinely believe their own fantasy world of a virus free life. I’ve not encountered it to this level directly; I am aware it goes on. When I let my mind wander into its dark recesses, I have thought if that was the case when it was passed on to me – did he know and out of fear or denial just simply not inform me? Was he scared that I would no longer love him? I simply do not know and probably never will; such thoughts are best not dwelled upon. I never discuss past relationships with current partners in any particular detail, so he would never have known my previous rejection of someone over the very same thing.

I do not suffer from denial, but the idea of being stigmatised does play on my mind and the assumptions people will make about me based on something you would never know I had from merely looking at me. I don’t believe anyone should have to hide any aspect of their life out of fear of persecution from their peers. Furthermore I don’t believe people should feel they have to disclose to the wider society out of some sense of moral duty to be part of some campaign of awareness. Martyrdom after all, is not for all.

I now find myself at a very odd junction in life in terms of disclosure. On ‘D’ day I informed a work colleague, the senior partner at the firm where I work and my parents. Before the end of the week I had informed one of my friends. By the end of the month all the partners at the firm I work at knew; then I went quiet. I found myself in a rut, only able to open up to people with the assistance of alcohol. I wasn’t drinking to excess and I wasn’t drinking to forget. I was drinking to open up. I guess the alcohol just allowed the shields to drop and for me to say the things I struggle so much to say. Thankfully I now seem to be over needing the assistance of alcohol in this respect. But whilst I would say that for now, in some instances, I feel more comfortable with opening up and informing people about my status, that niggling gut feeling of the uncertainty of how they will respond still remains. I guess that feeling will never truly go until the mindset of society changes and I do not see that happening anytime soon. There is still far too much ignorance towards the subject. Even now, when I inform people, I still feel like a National Health Service announcement because people do not know the simple basic facts.

Out of all the character traits that go into making me ‘me’, I would say by far my ability for over-thinking a situation is my most dominant trait. And this more than anything holds me back, not only from disclosing, but also in other aspects of my life I’ve spent time side stepping issues. It is a part of me I hate, but a part of me I’ve now long made peace with and accept there isn’t much I can do about it.

Your mind can be your greatest asset, and it can be your greatest downfall. Everyone reacts differently but from the experiences I’ve shared with others living with HIV one thing is clear – we all, for a time, retreat into ourselves. Some of us cope, find the strength to speak to others and get the help we need. Others, sadly, cannot. When the world falls apart rational thought is no longer a gift for some, instead seeing no other option but to remove themselves from life altogether. I was told a story from a friend who works within the public sector; it involved a 18-year old guy who, two hours after he was allowed to leave the clinic after being diagnosed positive, threw himself from a bridge. I can imagine the fear and loneliness he must have felt in those two hours – he must have been so scared.

But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… I do sometimes wonder from time to time how I would have dealt with my positive diagnosis at a younger age. Say had I been 23 instead of 33. Is it my age, the fact I’ve lived and had a somewhat colourful and charmed existence and the valuable life experiences I have gained throughout my life that have enabled me to come to terms and to some degree adapt to the situation I now find myself in? When I decided to start writing this blog it was with a hope to put something out there, to help people in some way who find themselves in the same situations I find myself in now, as well as that of just over a year ago. As I know only too well, when all of the friends and family have gone and I was left to myself, my thoughts, there was nothing that made me feel so incredibly alone – your own mind can be a very isolating place to exist. It felt like I was the only person with HIV. I knew I wasn’t, but still, with all the pain and fear there was an overwhelming sense of isolation. I started to think that I would spend the rest of my life alone and that no one would ever love me; partners, friends and family will more than likely turn their backs on me. This is where the roots of stigma start to manifest – not in the thoughts and feelings of things I had already experienced, but that of what I had not, and the fear of what was yet to come. The uncertainty and trepidation of telling is what left me feeling empty inside and so utterly alone and scared. The fear was of how I presumed I would be treated rather than a reaction to how I had. I’m not saying this will always be the case and that it will never happen; maybe I have simply been lucky thus far, but all the worry I put myself through… justifiable I guess, given how this is a subject we never want to discuss in the open anymore.

To think I was so scared to tell those close to me about my status, yet now I question how I would have coped had I never spoke up. My status is not a constant topic; nor do I want it to be and in some instances it is a source of levity, but to know I can speak to any of my friends when something is troubling me or playing on my mind makes me realise I don’t have to deal with this alone. I still like walks along the beachfront, but the significance and comfort it brings me is now replaced by the same feelings I have from my friends. Each offers me something unique, yet all help me see the good when it’s all going bad. Campaigns to raise awareness and fight institutionalised stigma are all well and good, and needed, but just sometimes all that we need more, all that I needed more, was a simple gesture; a hug from friend, to be told it will be ok and that I’m still loved because sometimes it is these simple gestures of unconditional love that are the most powerful and poignant gifts we can offer one another, to make us realise that in the end we are all still human, that life is still worth living and that we do not have to be alone.